I make a point of buying tickets to just one annual foodie event every year. Ladies and gentlemen, that event is Caputo’s Annual Chocolate Festival. I’ve gone for the past eight years, including two years during the pandemic when the event was 100% virtual. And if you’re a chocolate lover, you should also be going. The event is an Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund fundraiser, and this year will feature Mānoa Chocolate from Kailua, Hawaii.
Did I mention that the chocolatiers from Mānoa Chocolate will also be there? You’ll get to meet the team behind the bars and learn about the fantastic things they are doing to sustain and preserve endangered cacao and make damn good chocolate while they are at it. It is storytelling through chocolate.
“Dylan from Mānoa Chocolate, Hawaii, is a rockstar in this space, and he’s here [in the United States]. We were going to tell his story,” says Matt Caputo, with Caputo’s. “This is to tell the story of people like Dylan because there’s so much cool stuff that goes into the work they’re doing at the farm level to preserve heirloom varieties of cacao and grow them in Hawaii. Here in America. When we tell these stories, and people taste, that tastes different. That doesn’t taste like other chocolate.”
“Mānoa is a chocolate company made in the US, and it’s the only one of its type. That’s what’s distinctive about them,” added Yelena Caputo, referring to their selection of this particular chocolatier. “It tastes absolutely incredible. This is a beautiful moment in Mānoa’s timeline because they can put the origin-specific location on the bars. They have enough good harvest to allow them to do these batches individually. Five years ago, it was impossible.”
As someone crazy for great packaging and design, Yelena and I geeked out for a few minutes on the story being told on the packaging for the different bars. “The original artwork is significant in telling the story of Hawaii,” she told me. “One of the things that I am completely obsessed with this packaging is that the story is told on the back, around the front, through the mold, mimicking the Polynesian tattoo art, and then all the way through. So you’ve got to get the story about exactly where it’s made, how it’s made, the farm, the origin, down to the little map, a QR code, and a sustainable package.”
I had the chance to taste the O’ahu Island Ko’olaupoko bar and the O’ahu Island Mililani Bar—both 70% dark chocolate, both from O’ahu. Both were distinct. The Ko’olaupoko bar is nutty and rich on the tongue. The Mililani bar was fruity and bright with a tart note. This is one of the things that I LOVE about going to Caputo’s Annual Chocolate fest —you can try single-origin bars from a great chocolatier and compare nuances you might not notice any other way. Much like a whiskey or wine tasting or a flight of beer . Experiencing a “flight” of chocolate gives you an appreciation for the terroir, aka the “sense of place” and uniqueness of the chocolate.
This year, the 11th annual event will be held in person at the Downtown Caputo’s location with local chefs and craft beverage experts. You can expect delicious bites and sips from our talented local culinary luminaries highlighting Mānoa’s unique bean-to-bar chocolate. And, 100% of the proceeds are donated to the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative. More about that in a moment.
Date: Thursday, November 17th at 7:00 p.m.
The culinary lineup will include creations by talented chefs from:
- Post Office Place
- The Lakehouse at Deer Creek
- Central 9th Market
- Caputo’s Market & Deli
Accompanied by cocktails, wine, and coffee from:
- Island Time
- Post Office Place
- Libation Inc
- La Barba Coffee
- Cultivate Craft Kitchen
Here’s why I go yearly—I’m guaranteed to taste delicious chocolate. I get to enjoy that chocolate in everything from savory to sweet bites made by talented local chefs who go all out for the event. I get to try it in a cocktail or two or with some wine. And best of all, it is for an excellent cause.
The event supports the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP), a non-profit collaboration between the Fine Chocolate Industry Association and the United States Department of Agriculture to genetically identify strains of heirloom cacao that are extraordinary and unique in flavor and quality and preserve them in the face of an agricultural system that is quickly killing them off.
“Biodiversity is getting crowded out all over the world, and nowhere quicker than in what is available in cacao,” explains Matt. “So, like grapes, there are thousands of varieties with heirloom cacao. What we were left by the Indigenous cultures of Central and South America was this huge biodiversity of cultivated varieties and wild varieties out there. They are shrinking at an alarming rate. So the HCP is working at the farm level to help preserve as many of these varieties as possible. It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s something. And it feels like a tangible result. Each one gets certified, protected, and genetically mapped. So we feel good about supporting them. It’s moving the needle and a significant and meaningful way.”
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